Trial Court Establishes Best Practice Principles in Criminal Sentencing*
BOSTON, MA — The Massachusetts Trial Court today announced that the four Trial Court departments with criminal jurisdiction have issued comprehensive criminal sentencing reports, including best practice principles to assist judges in developing individualized, evidence-based sentences that are intended to improve offenders’ chances of success upon release, reduce recidivism, and better secure public safety.
“In response to the commitment made by Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants in his first State of the Judiciary address, I am pleased to report that the Trial Court has completed a thorough set of reports outlining principles to provide consistent, informed guidance to judges in determining sentences that are best suited to the adjudication of individual cases,” said Trial Court Chief Justice Paula M. Carey.
The Sentencing Best Practice principles state that sentences should be proportionate to the gravity of the offense, the harm done to crime victims, and the role of the offender. A sentence should be no more severe than necessary to achieve its purposes and special conditions of probation should be narrowly tailored to the needs of the defendant, the public, and the victim, because an excessive number of special conditions may increase rather than decrease the likelihood of recidivism. The principles also encourage judges to inform defendants at the time of sentencing that the court will consider early termination of their probation or lift some conditions if they fully comply.
The Boston Municipal, District, Juvenile and Superior Court Departments formed Sentencing Best Practices Committees comprised of judges, probation officers, prosecutors, public defenders, law enforcement representatives, members representing local bar associations, and members of the Sentencing Commission to recommend sentencing practices that are informed by research-based risk factors. Each departmental committee developed a set of principles to help guide judges in exercising sentencing discretion, where the criminal statutes allow such discretion, as well as a set of tools to assist judges in implementing those sentencing best practices. In addition, the Massachusetts Probation Service is developing a searchable database of the programs and service providers available to probation departments by geographical region and by program type, so that judges may know what programs are available based on the particular needs of the defendant, such as drug treatment, mental health treatment, or batterers programs.
“This is a major milestone in our ongoing commitment to craft appropriate sentences,” said Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants. “I thank the four Sentencing Best Practice Committees for their diligence and thoughtfulness in producing this tremendous body of work, which will help judges to set sentences that not only fit the crime but also fit the offender, and in so doing reduce the likelihood of recidivism.”
The comprehensive sentencing materials include:
- Sentencing Best Practice Reports that detail the sentencing principles and recommendations of each departmental working group, and identify its members.
- Sentencing Bench Book that serves as an easily useable reference guide for judges on statutes and legal issues that relate to sentencing.
- a Memorandum on Best Practices in Sentencing Utilizing Social Science Data & Research that identifies the offender and social science factors that may affect recidivism rates, and the incentives and sanctions that have proven effective (and ineffective) in reducing recidivism, so that judges may apply the applicable social science research to their sentencing decisions.
*Press Release from: ‘PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICE, SUPREME JUDICIAL COURT